The past several days have seen a renewed flurry of interest in Noah's Ark. It began during the week leading up to the National Conference on Christian Apologetics, held from October 16-17 at Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina.
(Note: All links below open in separate browser windows.)
On October 9th, a press release for the event was posted (http://ses.edu/news-events/news/does-new-eyewitness-evidence-point-to-noahs-ark), which read in part:
Does New Eyewitness Evidence Point to Noah's Ark?
Is it Noah's Ark? Photographs, Testimony and Never-Before-Seen Video from Site
of Ancient Structure to be Presented at Special Event in Advance
of Southern Evangelical Seminary's Apologetics Conference
CHARLOTTE, N.C. More than five years ago, a Hong Kong-based team from Noah's Ark Ministries International (NAMI) made headlines with the announcement of a discovery of an ancient wooden structure thought to be the ark of biblical times.
Now, the discoverer who led NAMI to the site at Mount Ararat in Turkey will be a part of a special event coordinated by Southern Evangelical Seminary (SES, www.ses.edu) on the evening of Oct. 15, when new and exciting information about the discovery of the structure will be presented by a panel of eyewitness explorers and experts.
The Noah's Ark presentations are planned for the day before the kickoff of the 22nd annual National Conference on Christian Apologetics, to be held at Calvary Church in Charlotte, N.C., on Oct. 16-17, so that a watching world can decide for itself if this evidence finally proves that the ark discovery is legitimate.
The Turkish expert who first made the discovery, Ahmet Ertugrul, better known to the world as Parasut, will be featured at the event to answer questions about his headline-making find. Joining him will be Philip Williams, an American engineer and former telecommunications entrepreneur who has investigated the charges of hoax made against the discovery. Williams, one of the first Americans to view the structure, will also present the results of his own investigation. After studying the topic for 20 years, Williams will present photographs, testimony and videos from a trip made to the mountain in the past year.
Mount Ararat, specifically mentioned in the biblical account of the ark, is located in eastern Turkey and is called 'The Painful Mountain,' lying at the center of a centuries old, geo-politically unstable hot spot. The risky and rough terrain is the tallest mountain in the region.
Some scholars and researchers believe the structure found at that mountain could be Noah's Arka faith-driven building project that allowed God to save a cross-section of humanity and start over through Noah and his family.
In April 2010, NAMI released details of its exploration of the remains of a massive wooden structure buried beneath volcanic rock and ice on Mount Ararat. The remains were found at 4,000 meters above sea level, and researchers say the wood dates back about 4,800 years.
Since then, many have tried to both prove and disprove that the remains are indeed Noah's Ark. The event next week will feature several expert presenters, who will give reasons for and against the probability that these might indeed be remains from the ark.
Williams serves as director of the New Beginnings Foundation, a small inner-city mission in Charlotte, N.C., aimed at ecumenical cooperation with other ministries. He continues to use his system expertise to assist developing nations in the creation of infrastructure for impoverished rural communities.
Ertugrul was born near Mount Ararat and grew up acquainting visitors with local culture. He has hosted visitors from every nation, speaks fluent Turkish, Kurdish, English and Farsi. Generations of Parasut's ancestors lived in a village on Mount Ararat, and from childhood, he heard stories of visits to an ancient ship visible at certain times on the mountain.
To round out the panel, an official representative from the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) has also been invited to the event to present and field questions.
When I learned about this meeting from a friend, I was immediately burdened by a sense that I needed to contact SES and sound a word of warning. As those familiar with the Associates for Biblical Research are aware, I have been studying the matter of the survival of Noah's Ark since I joined ABR in 1994, and believe I am not uninformed on the subject. This study has resulted in two papers presented at Near East Archaeological Society annual meetings in 2009 and 2011, plus several other articles written in response to misleading books and articles issued by different authors. Here are links to a few of my writings on this subject:
- Noah's Ark in Iran?
- An Armenian Perspective on the Search for Noah's Ark
- Noah's Ark Update
- The Landing-Place of Noah's Ark: Testimonial, Geological and Historical Considerations: Part One of Four
- Unfolding a Mystery: My Investigations into the Baris Question
Now, I knew from prior study and correspondence with members of the general Ark research community that the site espoused by Ahmet 'Parasut' Ertugrul, the ostensible 'discoverer' featured at the SES conference, did not correspond well with details from most eyewitness records from history. This alone gives ample reason to view the purported site with suspicion. My hope was that, at a minimum, this lack of corroboration with other testimonies would be raised during a Q/A session following the talk. So, I composed the following email and sent it out to several contacts at SES, hoping it would come to the attention of the right people:
Dear brothers in Christ,
I am on the staff of the Associates for Biblical Research (http://abrdev4.client1enktesis.com), 'A Christian apologetics ministry dedicated to demonstrating the historical reliability of the Bible through archaeological and biblical research.' A friend of mine brought to my attention that SES is hosting a meeting on October 15, 2015, 'Does New Eyewitness Evidence Point to Noah's Ark?' This is a subject that has been near and dear to my heart since 1994, to such a degree that I have become personally acquainted over the years with nearly all of the Americans involved since the 1970s in the search for the Ark on Mount Ararat. These include John Warwick Montgomery, John Morris, Elfred Lee, Doris Bowers, John McIntosh and Richard Bright, among others; the latter two men climbed the mountain with astronaut Col. James Irwin in the1980s. Though not having the privilege of climbing Mount Ararat myself, my involvement has been sufficiently deep that I have given presentations on the subject twice at Near East Archaeological Society annual meetings (held each year in conjunction with the Evangelical Theological Society), and have been intensively involved in behind-the-scenes historical and satellite research for the American team that climbed Mount Ararat several times since 2009. This has given me greater than average knowledge of what is going in efforts to track down the remains of Noah's Ark.
I know that in many and varied ways SES promotes the spreading of biblical truth, one of which is the upcoming National Conference on Christian Apologetics, and I thank you for your diligent efforts in spreading the Gospel in these ways. In the interest furthering this laudable goal, I have a question for you. Are you aware that there is a great deal of dissent in the ranks of Ark researchers about the truthfulness of the site advocated by Ahmet Ertugrul and his current American publicist, Philip Williams? These are the two men who will be heading up your October 15th meeting.
As your website notes (http://ses.edu/news-events/news/does-new-eyewitness-evidence-point-to-noahs-ark), over five years ago the Hong Kong-based organization known as NAMI -- Noah's Ark Ministries International -- first reported 'the announcement of a discovery of an ancient wooden structure thought to be the ark of biblical times.' One would think that, with the passing of five years, there would now be an abundance of evidence in archaeological and creationist circles to back up this claim. But try as one might, whether on the Internet or in the journals, one cannot find any positive reports of progress in authenticating and documenting this site. Rather, those who have investigated have uniformly given a negative report of their findings, or rather the stubborn lack of any scientifically documented positive evidence. This should raise red flags that something is amiss. We all know that we live in an age where the great mass of humanity is more concerned about self-aggrandizement than the pursuit of truth, so it behooves us to put amazing claims to the test.
May I suggest that, prior to the October 15th Noah's Ark presentation, some of the skeptical reports about Ertugrul's purported Ark site be reviewed by those who are involved in sponsoring this meeting? Here are a few:
Also, ask yourself why, given the significance of the alleged find, NAMI is no longer involved in promoting it? If one does a search for 'NAMI' or 'Noah's Ark Ministries International' in a search engine, one cannot find the organization. There is still a remnant website at http://www.noahsarksearch.net/arkmovie/eng/, but it has not been updated since 2011. Does it make any sense that a Christian organization that funnelled something on the order of ten million dollars to Ertugrul would walk away from its investment, if there really was something significant there?
PLEASE... be 'wise as serpents but innocent as doves' in this matter. Do not give Ertugrul and Williams an unchallenged platform for foisting what is, to many who have studied the matter closely, a deception upon people who are not well informed. It is apparently all about money. It would be a shame to have the good name of SES sullied by a connection with a purveyor of false reports. I very strongly encourage you to diligently 'test the spirits' in this matter, and not adopt a credulous attitude that takes at face value what your speakers report on October 15th. If you will not have an adequate Q/A session after the presentation to air out the critics' objections to the site, may I encourage you to have a follow-up meeting to hear the other side of the story?
As 2 Cor. 4:2 tells us (NASB), 'we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God.' Strive for full transparency when it comes to the evidence for the survival of Noah's Ark.
I sent this message off, and then waited to see if it would have any salutary effect. There was no immediate response. Then, a second press release went out from SES two days before the event, October 13th, and simply added this paragraph:
'At a minimum, there is enough evidence already to call for more scientific research to find out whether or not it is Noah's Ark,' said SES co-founder Dr. Norman Geisler, who will make introductions at Thursday's event. 'If it is Noah's Ark, it will be the greatest discovery in the history of archaeology! Applying the smell test, if it smells like Noah's Ark, looks like Noah's Ark, has the dimensions of Noah's Ark, is as old as Noah's Ark, and landed where Noah's Ark did, etc., then it is probably Noah's Ark.'
This addition, though short, was noteworthy because it appeared to add the support of one of America's premier apologetics experts, Dr. Norman Geisler, to the find. This new paragraph was obviously added to increase interest and attendance. However, the third and final press release, posted the morning of October 15th at http://ses.edu/news-events/news/noahs-ark-panel-discussion-kicks-off-tonight, had a decidedly different tone. It included the following significant new statements not in the original press release (bold text is my emphasis):
- 'Media Has Opportunity to Hear Pros and Cons of 'Discovery'' - notice the quotes around 'Discovery,' and the fact that 'cons' would be dealt with. That was a new emphasis.
- 'A controversial panel to discuss whether or not an ancient wooden structure found at Mount Ararat in Turkey is Noah's Ark is set for 5:30 p.m. at Calvary Church in Charlotte, N.C.' - The word 'controversial' was not in the original press release.
- 'To present the findings of those who believe the structure is indeed Noah's Ark, along with those who are skeptics of the findings.' This seemed to promise a balanced presentation of the evidence.
- 'Tonight's event will feature a panel of speakers who will talk about their perceptions of whether or not an ancient wooden structure discovered on Mount Ararat in Turkey is indeed Noah's Ark.' This was a significant backtracking from the original press release, which stated, 'new and exciting information about the discovery of the structure will be presented by a panel of eyewitness explorers and experts' (http://ses.edu/news-events/news/does-new-eyewitness-evidence-point-to-noahs-ark).
This last press release encouraged me to believe that there was going to be a truly impartial examination of the evidence by knowledgeable experts, and perhaps indicated indirectly that my emails had reached someone in a position to take action. However, that apparently turned out not to be the case, since I have been unable to find any evidence since the meeting concluded that there actually were any knowledgeable dissenting voices during it, or that any genuine effort was made to provide a balanced discussion. Rather, Dr. Geisler issued a statement that was quoted in an email I received:
Noah's Ark is Found
Noah's Ark has been found on 'the mountains of Ararat'-exactly where the Bible states it landed (Genesis 8:4). According to four eyewitnesses-who have been in it on Mt. Ararat, Noah's Ark has been found! I spoke with all of them personally yesterday at the National Conference of Christian Apologetics (Charlotte, NC). If true, then this is the greatest archaeological discovery of all time! Fox News reported this amazing discovery yesterday [http://video.foxnews.com/v/4561729115001/does-new-evidence-point-to-noahs-ark/?#sp=show-clips]. The chief archaeologist in Turkey, Dr. Belli, was present at the announcement, as well as Ahmet Ertugrul (AKA Parasute), the noted native discoverer of the Ark. Philips Williams, author of The Archaeological Evidence for Noah's Ark, was also present as were the Chinese representatives of NAMI who confirmed the find (see NAMI.com).
Norm Geisler, Arkeoapologists
Oct 19, 2015
I will just note in passing that as I write this (10/19/15), there is no active NAMI.com website; browsing to that URL only yields a 'coming soon' message. So the comment made in my original email is still quite valid: why is NAMI not still actively promoting Parasut's site? The Media Evangelism, the Hong Kong group behind Noah's Ark Ministries International, certainly has the funds to maintain an active website to promote it if they are still convinced it is the right location. In fact, their English-language website, http://www.media.org.hk/main/asp/corporate_web_eng.asp, features a graphic in the right column to the NAMI information. The exact URL from the graphic is http://www.noahsarksearch.net/arkmovie/eng/index.php#aboutus. If you scroll up on that page, you can see it has not been updated since 2011. Why not, if the earth-shaking news Parasut reports is true?
I remain quite concerned that SES wound up sponsoring an event carefully orchestrated by Parasut and Williams, designed only to perpetuate a fraud begun over five years ago with NAMI. I'm also concerned that Dr. Geisler, a premier apologist but not truly knowledgeable about the ongoing search for Noah's Ark, has become another person taken in by the fraud, and due to his academic stature will draw others into its web as well. As Dr. Randall Price of Liberty University, another member of the American research team I work with, wrote to me shortly before the presentation:
When you have film and photos (unverified as to the actual context) it is difficult to judge what you are actually seeing. They also have assembled a support team with Williams and unidentified others who will seem to confirm the discovery as Noah's Ark. Of course, they will say it might not be the Ark, but they will also say what else could it be, leaving the audience to draw the only conclusion the film. photos, and collective testimony permits. This is largely a lay audience, untrained in discerning such things, and because it is sponsored by the seminary and a prelude to the apologetics conference, they will already be influenced to believe it (why would SES allow a group to bring false data?).
It is not at all my intention to besmirch the well-deserved good reputation of Dr. Geisler and SES by pointing out these things. However, I feel an obligation to the Lord and His people to join with others, like Dr. Price, to warn against taking a too-trusting, credulous view of what Parasut and his carefully-chosen supporters report. Independent confirmation must be made, and since this still has not been done, although five whole years have passed since NAMI first popularized the site, the jury is still out. (With all due respect to the Turkish archaeologist on the SES panel, Dr. Oktay Belli, we have no reason to attribute more credibility to his testimony right now than we do to Parasut's.)
In the final analysis, the biggest problem of all is this: the American Ark research team received reports which indicated that local eyewitnesses observed Parasut building a staged Ark site, using timbers scavenged from an ancient shipwreck. The Kurdish workers at the site were told they were building a set for a movie about the Ark, but Parasut instead presented it to NAMI as the genuine article. This fraud snookered NAMI into giving him millions of dollars. In the same way, the site promoted at SES this year by Parasut and Williams was observed being built in 2013. Those making these reports are the true eyewitnesses whose stories need to be carefully checked out, but they have hesitated coming forth because of intimidation by those with a lot to lose if the fraud becomes widely known.
The leaders of the American team are investigating these reports. Until they are checked out, the most responsible thing Christians can do is to refrain from uncritically accepting the latest claims. Not to exercise such caution is to allow one's hope for a dramatic confirmation of the Bible to overrule responsible scholarship that can hold up in the long run. Only such carefully checked facts can persuasively testify to a watching world about the historical reliability of the Bible, the very Word of God.